New Cold War.org, Jan 29, 2016
A subtle shift in the attitude of the Canadian government towards Russia has been signalled by Minister of Foreign Affairs Stéphane Dion.
On January 27, Dion announced to the House of Commons in Ottawa that he would visit Ukraine in the coming days. Facing opposition party haranguing, he restated views expressed to journalists one day earlier that it was time for a shift in relations with Russia.
Dion told the House, “Our foreign policy will stop being ideological and irrational and will be effective for our allies and for Canadians.”
Dion’s pronouncements coincided with views expressed to journalists in Moscow on January 26 by Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov. He said Canada’s attitude to Russia during the past two years has been driven by an “absence of pragmatism”. He said Canadian policy has been “Russophobic” and has served the wishes of the right-wing, Ukrainian diaspora in Canada, not the country’s national interests.
Watch New Cold War. org in the coming days for analysis of the reasons for the Canadian policy shift and the possible consequences.
The apparent shift in attitude to Russia by the government in Ottawa has not yet filtered down into members of Parliament. Watch spokespeople for the Liberal, Conservative and New Democratic parties parrot their tired, identical anti-Russia refrains in a CBC television interview on January 26, here.
Sergey Lavrov answers reporter’s question about Russia-Canada relations, Jan 26, 2016, from the website of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Question: In the past three years, the relations with Canada have been fairly cool. Do you think the relations may improve with the new government in power in Canada? Do you see any signs of that?
Sergey Lavrov: We are interested in good relations with all countries. When we say that we are ready and open to cooperation with the West, including Europe and North America, we, of course, have Canada in mind as well. We have a good and long-standing relationship with that country. Canada is an influential and respected member in international relations. We are facing largely common challenges and common interests with regard to the development of the Arctic and cooperation in the northern latitudes, good experience of practical cooperation in a number of areas: economy, trade, and the northern latitudes. There have been ups and downs in our relations, but in the end, common sense invariably prevailed. We saw some down periods during the Stephen Harper government.
I believe that the last two years were generally a period of lost opportunities in relations with Canada, as the previous government suddenly adopted a sharp Russophobic policy, rolled back bilateral ties, imposed sanctions against Russian individuals and legal entities, and suspended the cooperation of intergovernmental commission on trade and economic issues.
Naturally, we had to retaliate. You are aware of the well-known executive order by President Putin to restrict imports of food. No one has benefitted from it. We were surprised by the total lack of any pragmatism in the impulsive actions taken by the previous government, which took the course, as you can understand, of blindly following the demands of rabid representatives of the Ukrainian diaspora in Canada, simply ignoring their own national interests.
The fact that in October 2015 the elections were won by the Liberal Party led by Justin Trudeau certainly is an important event, especially for Canadians. Based on the comments on foreign policy provided by Trudeau and his colleagues, we can expect that there will be opportunities to set our bilateral relations straight. They were completely artificially and pointlessly complicated. Again, the election rhetoric and the rhetoric of the new government following the elections indicate that they are ready to resume a dialogue on international issues and restore bilateral cooperation.
In November, President Putin spoke with Prime Minister of Canada Trudeau on the sidelines of the Group of 20 meeting. Both sides expressed a willingness and an interest in normalising relations. We believe that practical steps should now be taken by our Canadian partners who have volunteered and stated their intention to correct the mistakes of their predecessors. We’ll wait. We’re always ready for any positive changes.